Interview | Alastair Niven OBE LVO | Writer, lecturer & arts administrator

Alastair Niven is the author of four books and numerous scholarly articles on aspects of Commonwealth and post-colonial literature. A judge of the Booker Prize for Fiction in 1994 and of the Man Booker Prize in 2014, he was also for twenty years Chairman of the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize. He was director of literature at the Arts Council and at the British Council and is a former president of English PEN. His memoirs In Glad or Sorry Hours are published by Starhaven Press.

Where were you born and brought up? Were you a happy child? 
I was born in a nursing home in Edinburgh.  It is now a Hilton hotel, where the judging of the Stakis Prize for Scottish Writer of the Year took place in 1998.  I found myself deliberating with my fellow judges in the room in which I first saw the light of day.  I had come full circle.  As for a happy childhood – by and large, except when my father was on his daily rant about a misplaced towel or some crumbs on the carpet. Continue reading Interview | Alastair Niven OBE LVO | Writer, lecturer & arts administrator

Review | In Glad or Sorry Hours – a memoir, Alastair Niven | Starhaven Press

Why write an autobiography? Setting aside the ‘celebrity’ memoir, it is generally undertaken in a person’s later years, usually to give insights into how experiences have shaped them as a person . . . to preserve their life story for future generations . . . to shed light on an important moment in time . . . or to set the record straight.

Alastair Niven starts his engaging memoir, In Glad or Sorry Hours, in his early childhood, ending in the present, spanning a period of social and cultural innovation. He played an influential role, contributing to shaping the evolution of culture in England for over three decades: at the Africa Centre, the Arts Council, the British Council, as President of English PEN and at Cumberland Lodge. For twenty years he was Chairman of the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize. Discerning and generous in using his power, he clearly deeply cares about the value and wellbeing that literature and culture bring to individuals and to society. Continue reading Review | In Glad or Sorry Hours – a memoir, Alastair Niven | Starhaven Press

Guest Feature | Lucy Popescu @lucyjpop | European Literature Days, Literaturhaus Europa

The exuberant 10th anniversary of a small European literary festival, Literaturhaus Europa, held in the Wachau region of Austria, throws into sharp relief the cultural poverty we potentially face post-Brexit.

European Literature Days frequently punches above its weight, luring prominent international writers to participate in workshops and panel discussions over a long weekend. The theme this year was film, literature and literary adaptation. Continue reading Guest Feature | Lucy Popescu @lucyjpop | European Literature Days, Literaturhaus Europa

Lesley Blanch Archive | The Magic of Iran 2 (1965)

The extreme good looks and elegance of the Royal Family bestow a festive air on the good works which they promote. Princess Ashraf, the Shah’s twin sister, is passionately involved in the question of women’s emancipation which is still a very revolutionary measure. Princess Shams, as passionately, leans more toward promoting the arts, and is herself a fine musician. Her husband, Dr. Pahleboud, as Director of Fine Arts, exercise a galvanic influence on every aspect of cultural development, while the entire Royal Family is passionate in its love of animals and determination to obtain better conditions for them everywhere, in happy contrast to so much of the East, where the animals lot is usually terrible.

When Roloff Beny photographed the Imperial couple and their children, I asked his majesty that the sitting, which was to be entirely informal, should not be in the Summer Palace, nor in the fabled frame of the Golestan, nor even in their private palace in Teheran, but in the Diamond Room of the Marble Palace, generally used for more stately occasions. Here eyneh-khari decoration reaches its apogee, and it was like placing them in the very heart of the diamond kingdom. But not formally. The little Crown Prince Reza, feting his fourth birthday, and his sister, the baby Princess Farahnaz, saw to that. Continue reading Lesley Blanch Archive | The Magic of Iran 2 (1965)

Lesley Blanch Archive | The Magic of Iran 1 (1965)

Iran — the land of the Aryans — the Persia of legend, stands at the crossroads of the world, where the winds blowing across the wastes still carry echoes of Darius the Great and Tamerlane. Here all is extreme, fiery, icy, brilliant, obscure, sumptuous, dilapidated . . .

From greatness to decay, by lassitude and violence, the pendulum of Persian history has swung through three thousand years. But now, led by one man, it swings forward — the Emperor, Mohammed Reza, Shahanshah of Iran, is that man. Beside him stands the young Empress, the Shabanou, Farah, a fitting queen for this land which has always spelled beauty to the rest of the world and now sounds another more urgent note.

Women’s enfranchisement, agrarian reforms, dam-building, find new hospitals — that of Shiraz is held to outstanding in the Middle East — the pioneer work of the Shah’s own Illiteracy Corps, child welfare centres and veterinary clinics, too, are all, like supermarkets, drive-in cinemas, Coca-Cola signs, or double-decker London buses, a part of the new spirit of Iran. Yet, its legendary past, its abiding loveliness, are still its strongest lure; and we marvel more at a minaret than at a television tower. Continue reading Lesley Blanch Archive | The Magic of Iran 1 (1965)